Sicily is a pretty island with mostly rolling hills, and one side dominated by the volcano Etna.
The best volcano to visit though, is Stromboli, on its own little green island. This should be done early in the holiday, especially if you're in the autumn, as it's "impossible" for the Italians to run their ferries and hydrofoils in any wind stronger than a weary breeze, and being stranded there whilst the food, water and currency runs out, can be an experience that's better in retrospect... a bit like watching the quayside riot when there wasn't enough space on the first service home at the next island.
The ancients called Stromboli the lighthouse of the Mediterranean as it has small, much less dangerous eruptions all the time, which means you can climb up the rim of the crater (at dusk) and see the sparks fly whilst the volcano 'de-gasses'. The tours are only in the evening as the smoke obscures it otherwise, so you have to find somewhere to stay the night. If you can't go on one of the tours, then you can get a distant, 2nd-class view from a cafe or ship (as the south rim has collapsed into the sea). All the time you are on the island you can hear a rumbling noise like a heavy garage door being dragged over concrete - this is the volcano erupting again.
Next door Laparii is an island of pumice and xxx, there's even an abandoned mine if you like urban decay. You can pick up enough pumice on the beach to take back enough for all your acquaintances.
Etna, compared with Stromboli, is on a much, much larger scale, entirely. Staying the night at Rifugio Sapienza gives you time to explore the huge cinder fissure eruption cones that litter the landscape, and see the lumpy charcoal black lava flow from 1983. To ascend to one of the summit craters requires a guide, which you hire outside the Rifugio at the bottom of the cable-car - it is "impossible" to hire a guide at the top of the cable car despite there being half a dozen high-vis dressed rangers in the cabins there. The summit is an amazing hellish landscape of ejected lava bombs, sulphur smoking fumaroles and ash, and vast amounts of cat litter sized cinders - wear boots and jeans and make sure you can tuck your jeans into your socks otherwise descent down these slopes is painful.
We also visited the amazing roman mosaics at villa Romana del Casale, which seems to have been a rather decadent retreat for some Roman emperor.
Syracuse is a genteel city on the south coast, with some nice classic architecture, a very ornate church, and quite a few examples of the fascist era buildings.
Written and media by Scott Cole
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